More from: Life

The Tjibaou Cultural Center, New Caledonia – November 2011.

Years ago I read a big book called “Buildings of Wood”. It’s a big coffee table style book, with loads of amazing pictures of amazing wooden buildings. I made a note of a few of the buildings, making sure I visit them when I had the chance, and I’ve ticked a few off the list, including buildings in Sweden and the Faroe Isles.

Wood isn’t a very common building material for modern buildings, but one really stood out. The Tjibaou Cultural Center is in New Caledonia. But New Caledonia is in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Why would I ever be passing through? But as it happens, my job means I could turn up anywhere in the world. I had just one plan for New Caledonia, and I managed to get across to the Cultural Center and back, and not miss the ship.

If you ever visit, and just want to take a photo from the outside of the building (like I did, as I wasn’t sure if I’d have enough time to look inside), you must park a distance away, then pay to get into the grounds. It’s not possible to get close without buying a ticket. Which I didn’t know. But by the time I got there, after many years and after traveling half way round the world to see it, I just paid the money and checked it out. I’m glad I did. It really *is* a unique building.

New Caledonia

New Caledonia: no description

New Caledonia: no description

New Caledonia: no description

New Caledonia: no description

New Caledonia: no description

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Tip: let a member of the opposite sex help you fill out your online dating service profile.

Based on a true story (for real):

“It wants a profile picture.”

“Use the same one as your Facebook profile, as you look cool with the camera in your hand and the way it covers half your face makes you look mysterious.”


“Hell yeah!”

“What should I put in the ‘I’m really good at’ section?”

“Put the video of you juggling in different places around the world. Girls will love that!”

“Really? I thought it was a bit nerdy.”

“You have no idea, do you?”

“Hmmm, okay. Six things I can’t live without? Well, my laptop, obviously…”

“Don’t say your laptop!”

“Why not? It’s the most expensive thing I’ve ever bought, and without it I wouldn’t be filling out this stupid OkCupid profile… How about ‘I can’t live without hugs’?”


“I was joking.”

“Hugs is cute.”

“You should message me if… You want an interesting adventure.”

“I’d message you.”

“The truth is I’m looking for sex.”

“If the girl is also looking for sex, she’ll interpret that as interesting and adventurous sex.”

“Get a job!” – bootstrap pulling skills and becoming a professional juggler.

This story was originally written as a forum post, when someone asked, in relation to Occupy Wall Street reactionary comments like “Get a job!”:

“Please could some of you successful forum members tell the story of how you became successful at your job, outlining how much that was down to your own skills, and how much help you had along the way?”

Here’s how I pulled myself up by my bootstraps.

My original plan was to be a professional entertainer of some sort. I loved performing, so aged 13 I chose to study performing arts at school (GCSE level). Then aged 15 I decided to study performing arts full time at college for two years.

Of course, during this entire time I had support from my parents. My father is disabled, and hasn’t had a proper job in about 28 years, so my entire family had support from social programs of one type or another.

At college I lived with my parents, of course, and during the course of college I had free meals and free bus transport and grants to help me out. I bought my first PC using a grant.

After college I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do music or theater at university. I took a year out and worked for 9 months in a school kitchen, washing dishes and cleaning tables.

I decided to study music production, a degree called Creative Music Technology. At university I had some grant support, but most expenses were covered by student loans. I supplemented this by working night shifts at a supermarket, stacking shelves. When I left university I moved back in with my parents for a few months, and got a job working at a day care center for mentally and physically disabled people.

During this time I’d taken a lot of time to juggle, and it was a really fun hobby. I didn’t consider it to be a serious career option though.

My brother-in-law worked for a TV station, and mentioned a job opening. I applied, without the company or the interviewers knowing I was related to a manager. I didn’t get the job, as I could edit audio but wasn’t skilled in video edited on their equipment. A week later three people were fired from the company, and so suddenly they needed people to fill the vacancies. They asked if I’d take a job.

I moved to a new city, and stayed at a friends house until I could find a home of my own. I ended up living my friend for the next 18 months.

After two years working for the TV station, doing sound mixing, editing, camera work and other production duties, I quit. I loved the work itself, and the people I worked with, just not the people I had to work for. All four people in my department quit within four weeks of each other, so it wasn’t just me who had problems!

I had another job lined up, but a two month gap with nothing to do. I’d planned to go traveling, but due to weird life events, I ended up studying circus acrobatics. Again I stayed with friends, and when I decided not to take up the other job offer, I stayed with my parents between travels, and even getting a arts council grant to return to study acrobatics for another two months.

Due to not wanting to work in offices and studios, or sitting in an editing suite for eight hours a day, I decided to try to make it as a professional juggler. I made some money from paid gigs, but for a while my largest income was from making juggling beanbags and doing street shows. I traveled a lot, met a girl, and finally moved out of my parents place to Berlin.

I worked as juggler, and also a tour guide, in Berlin. Later Pola and I got a good recommendation from other jugglers to work on cruise ships, and they also recommended us to their agent. That now accounts for about 90% of my income per year.

Now I do well for myself. I could earn more money than I do, but I like to have a healthy work/home balance.

My bootstrap pulling skills:
* I didn’t originally plan to be a professional juggler; it wasn’t more than a hobby.
* The first career I aimed for only lasted two years.
* Once I settled on the idea, I worked very hard to be a juggler and entertainer.

Help I had along the way:
* Parents constantly giving support and a place to live between travel and jobs and even careers.
* Government grants for college, university, and even acrobatics school.
* Student loans.
* Free at point of service healthcare (with national health insurance payments only when an employee, not when self employed).
* Friends helping me out with housing, and even large short term loans.
* Family connections.
* The juggling scene providing unmeasurable teaching, help, advice, encouragement, etc.
* Volunteers organizing juggling conventions and festivals where I could practice juggling and entertaining on stage.
* Other jugglers providing connections and information about gigs and agents.

* Almost everything I rationally decided to do, career-wise, didn’t fit me and my life.
* Almost everything that happened to me accidentally led to better opportunities than anything I consciously planned to do when setting out.
* Without help from other people and government social programs, I’d be totally screwed.
* It takes a lot of hard work to be a professional entertainer.
* I’m very happy to do crazily hard work to give other jugglers the opportunities that I had myself (Eg. running workshops, organizing shows and open stages, helping run conventions, creating the British Young Juggler of the Year show and competition, etc etc etc).
* I’m happy to pay taxes.
* I’m happy to support other artists financially if they need and/or ask for help or a loan.

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Gods and Platypuses: The Ignostic Non-Beliefer.

Someone asked me about my “religious status” on Facebook, and I thought it would make a good blog post.

I’ve written on my blog a few time about how I used to be a Christian and now I’m a non-Christian. Not being Christian was on step along the journey, but once I finally admitted to myself that I didn’t believe in any kind of god, I wasn’t sure what word I could use to describe myself. After this bothering me for a few years, I googled about, and worked out I was probably some kind of secular humanist.

However, when people brought up my lack of belief in god, there seemed to be only two options: atheist or agnostic. I had a hard time accepting either of these designations.


First, “atheist” defines someone by their lack of belief in God or in a god or in gods in general. This privileges the idea of gods above other elements of supernatural claims, as nobody calls themselves a-fairyists or a-dragonists.

Secondly, it privileges the belief in the supernatural claim to be the defining aspect in someone’s life. Theist or atheist? “Well,” I think, “before I answer, may I first tell you my story rather than putting myself into one of those two camps?” I guess that’s why secular humanism is more appealing to me, as the name tells us that the human being and human endeavor is more important than the supernatural.

And that’s why I’m going to tell you a bit of my story.


So now to my main problem with calling myself either an atheist or agnostic. Over the years I’ve believed in many different versions of God. For example:

  • Hardcore belief in God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit, as expected of a fundamentalist Christian.
  • I believe in God and all that, but did he really create the world in 6 days?
  • God is some kind of powerful spirit, a force for love and for good.
  • Jesus wasn’t really God, just a wisdom teacher.
  • I have spiritual experiences, and the Bible is still meaningful.
  • Actually many things in the Bible are quite disturbing, but there’s still something to it.
  • Ah shit, this is all made up by humans to explain what goes on in humans’ brains, isn’t it?

It’s all relative, right? Luke at the start of my journey would class Luke at every other point as a non-theist. From the second point to the second last point I could be called agnostic by the Lukes at any other point. Only when I reached that last point could I really call myself an atheist.

So when someone asked me if I believed in God, I wondered at what point they were in this spectrum. What did they really mean? Did they mean the modern fundamentalist ideas? Did they mean wishy-washy spiritualist stuff? Were they on a spectrum of belief in a non-Abrahamic god?

I never knew. I’d get into a debate with someone, and they’d challenge me to tell them why they were wrong about God (and I did this when a Christian too), but after a few minutes they’d say something like “No, I don’t believe God answers prayers, he’s more like an all-pervading spirit that imbues the wider destiny of the universe.” I thought I’d been talking to a theist, and they were actually a pantheist or deist.

And after me saying “I’m an atheist” the other person might describe a kind of God that fits my science-fiction-loving brain’s image of an benevolent alien super-being. Do I believe in that kind of god? Well, I guess then I’m an agnostic. I’d not call it a god though. What does God need with a starship?

After a few years of these miscommunications, when anyone wanted to know if I was an atheist or agnostic, I’d ask them to define god first, and then I’d answer.


And then I found out, I don’t remember exactly when or where, that this had a name! It’s called Ignosticism. And the definition is pretty much what I’ve outlined above. Ignosticism is the stance that the notion of god shouldn’t be elevated to any kind of important position, instead treating the word as exactly that: a word. A very imprecise word at that!

For example, you ask if I have a car, and I say no, and then you say “You can have my car!” and give me a Lego model. Gee, thanks.

Then you clarify, “Do you have a real car?” I would say no. But what if you really meant “Do you have a personal vehicle with four wheels and an engine?” I could say “Yes.” Because I own a van.

So I let the person define the object of belief, and only then do I answer.


There is one final step to this, so I’ll stretch the car analogy a bit more:

“Do you have a real car?”

“You mean a personal vehicle with four wheels and an engine? Like a van?”



In fact I don’t have a van. But I kind of do. I used to have a van, and technically I still partly own it, even if my ex-girlfriend now uses it in another country. So does that mean I have a van or not?

“Do have a real car?”

Okay, my current girlfriend has a car, so if I need to get somewhere with a big bag, I can ask her to drive me. Also, when we visited England last month, we rented a car, so if you asked me a month ago, I could say that I did have a car, but now I don’t.

As you can see, the word “have” is now just as troublesome as the word “car”!

And in the question “Do you believe in God?” the word “believe” is as troublesome to me as the word “have”. What the fuck does belief even mean? That I know something is true, despite not being sure? That I think something is true, despite not being sure? That I think that I know something is true, despite not being sure? Or that I’m sure something is true, despite not thinking it through?

I believe lots of things, but now I like to think that belief or non-belief is only a stance on a proposition that hasn’t been closely examined. Once I’ve closely examined an idea, I’ll tell you that I think it is probably true, or that it is probably not true, or if I’m not so sure, I’ll give an estimate on how likely it is to be true.

Claim: “God, as depicted in Genesis, is real.”

My judgment: False.

Claim: “Some kind of energy being currently unexplained by science exists somewhere in the universe.”

My judgment: Maybe. It’s a big universe.

Claim: “The platypus is an endangered species.”

My judgment: I believe so.

You see, I really have no idea about the conservation status of the platypus, but off the top of my head, I guess it might be endangered. That’s what I call a belief.

A belief can be a meaningful basis for action. For example, I’ll stop someone killing a platypus with a stick! If later I discover platypuses are, in fact, vermin that need culling… well, that’s cool. I wasn’t really invested in the idea.

Claim: “In the event of an earthquake, run out into the street!”

My judgment: I believe so. I’ve not really looked into it. I’ll check the answer when I move to an earthquake zone.

For many people the question “Do you believe in God?” is just that important, so they don’t really care about the definition of God in the mind of the questioner, nor do they plan use that belief to make important decisions. In that case, belief or non-belief is a totally fine position.

For someone like me, who was brought up as a Christian, God was super important to me! His existence, and the nature of his existence, had a real impact on the decisions I made in life. How could I merely believe or not believe in the existence of God? I needed to look more closely at the whole concept.

Now I hold various important concepts as impossible, possible, improbable, probable, and all kind of degrees in between. For concepts unimportant to me, belief or non-belief is just fine.

Got a conclusion?

When it comes down to important matters, I’m simply not a beliefer. I’m a non-beliefer.

An ignostic non-beliefer.

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Juggling and Celebrity

This post was originally written for the Juggling Edge discussion on the same topic.

I have a lot of experience with juggling, and some with celebrity, and some with the two topics combined. I’ll break it down into four points/stories.

American vs European juggling celebrity.

Back in the day, when I was well known for being a good juggler, performing at conventions and having a popular website, many jugglers I met knew who I was before I knew who they were. Up until 2004 it didn’t have much impact on my interaction with other jugglers. I performed a lot in the UK and Europe, and everyone was totally cool. All the other famous jugglers I met had the same experience, as far as I could tell, because while they were well known, they weren’t treated differently than anyone else.

In 2004 I visited the IJA summer festival in upstate New York. It was my first trip to the USA, and I was stuck by the many, many differences in culture, both in society in general and within the juggling scene. Just how different the IJA festival was from European conventions would fill an entire essay in itself, so I’ll stick to the topic at hand.

On the first day I performed in the opening dinner banquet show. The vast majority of the festival attendees were in the audience, so I guess I was immediately well known to everyone, even if they hadn’t known who I was before.

Then someone asked me for an autograph. I found this pretty strange. I can’t recall every being asked for one before. I know I’d been asked to sign things after a convention gala show before, but this would normally be one object that all the artists in the show would sign, like a book or a t-shirt. But here was a young juggler, maybe 16 years old, asking me to sign a juggling club.

I wasn’t sure how to respond, so I just said something like “Nah, don’t be silly.”

The next person who wanted an autograph had a ring they wanted signing. I wasn’t so surprised this time, but still felt super-uncomfortable standing in the middle of a hall, signing autographs. I made a joke about it, and signed the very thin edge of the ring, so my autograph was nothing more than a black line. I tried to make a joke of it, but really I didn’t want other jugglers to see my signature on something, and think “Who does Luke think he is?”

Once three or four other young male jugglers asked me for my autograph, other famous jugglers at the convention had already signed the props, so my name would just be one of many. Then I gave in, and just scribbled my name. I would always try to strike up a conversation with these jugglers, but invariably all they wanted was the signature, and then they’d head off to find another juggler to sign the club/ring/whatever.

One evening there was a circle of jugglers chatting, and this came up. I remember asking Jason Garfield about it, and he explained that it was normal for people to ask for autographs, and that he also felt weird about it. But he explained that the thing to do was just to sign your name, as to not do so would be a dick move. He had a lot more experience with American juggling celebrity status than I, and also way more experience making dick moves, so I took his advice.

I guess it all worked out at that festival, as I had fun hosting the final night of Renegade, I took part in some competitions, and handily won the People’s Choice Award.

To this day, I probably signed more autographs in my four trips to American conventions than in the (at a rough guess) 150 conventions I’ve attended in Europe. I think the difference between perceived celebrity is balancing out more now though, possibly due to the internet eroding the differences in culture, and allowing more access to jugglers directly, rather than via magazines, shows, and conventions.

A Non-Famous Juggler

In 2003 I attended a convention, and was asked to be in the show. I accepted, because that’s what I do. The host of the show was not a well known juggler, but was a professional. He was a super nice guy, and very good at his job. And he performed on cruise ships.

And boy, did he let everyone know about it. Maybe he hadn’t been doing it long, but he certainly saw himself as better than everyone else, because he constantly talked about it. “Yeah, on cruise ships were do lighting like this” and “When I’m working on cruise ships, I do this and this…”

As it happens, he probably was better than everyone else in the show, and the fact that he was a successful professional, and still is, only confirms that. But it really rubbed me up the wrong way. First, it made me not want to ever work on cruise ships, thinking that it might turn me into a dickhead. Second, I remember vowing to myself that no matter what I did as a juggler, I’d always remember what it was like to be an amateur juggler, and that someone regaling me with stories about previous bigger shows doesn’t impress at all. Doing a good job is the main thing that counts.

Since then I’ve shared the things I’ve learned as professional juggler, and helped as many jugglers as possible follow in my footsteps to being professional jugglers themselves, but I’ve tried to be sensitive in how I present myself. Each time I explain a point in a workshop, I make the reasons clear, and not just say “I’m a professional, and have worked in this or that venue, and this is just the way it’s done.”

A Famous Non-Juggler

Last year I worked on a British cruise ship, and they had booked a big star as special guest entertainer. He was TV celebrity, probably hosted game shows or something. Everyone on the ship was abuzz about him doing a show, and some of the cruise staff made up trivial excuses with the only aim of spending a bit of time chatting to him.

Funnily enough, I told this story a few months ago, and couldn’t remember the name of this star, which is relevant, but I’ll not name him now even though I do remember his name. There’s no need to be a dick about it.

Anyway, I grew up the UK at the time when this TV celebrity was at the height of his fame. However, my family never had a TV in the house, so 99% of popular TV culture passed me by. I knew this TV celebrity’s name, but literally nothing else about him. I didn’t know what he was going to do in his show, nor was I particularly interested in finding out.

In the end I was working on other things, and didn’t see his show. But I did go to the theater to practice once his show was over. I met him back stage in the dressing room, and he said he’d enjoyed my show. I said “Good to meet you, I’m Luke.” And then I asked him his name, because I’d forgotten it.

He said “Oh, I’m John Smith” and all I could think was “No wait, I’m sure it was something else…” And then I noticed from the expression on his face that he’d not been in a room in decades without everybody else in the room knowing his name. He thought that I was the one who was trying to make a joke at his expense, pretending I didn’t know who he was. Instead I was just trying to be polite.

As it turns out, I’ve never been on the other side of this situation. The reason is that I’ve never presumed that anybody knows who I am. Why should I?

When I meet a juggler for the first time, I always introduce myself by name, and most of the time the juggler will say “Yes, I know who you are!” This is a good bet, considering that I’m often on stages at the largest juggling conventions, introducing myself and others in a show. But even at the largest juggling conventions, maybe only half the people have been to another convention before, and only half of them go to see the opening show or an open stage where I’m hosting. To many people, I’m just another guy they’ve met in the main hall.

But assuming ignorance of my limited fame among other jugglers has served me well in the area of not-coming-off-as-a-dick. A fellow special guest at the French Juggling Convention last year met me for the first time while I was balancing a ball on the top of my head. I knew her from her youtube videos, and was a big fan. We started the conversation, and she started mentioning contact jugglers she thought I’d know. It turns out she presumed I was a contact juggler, due to me having a ball on my head. She had no clue what I really did, or who I was, and it turned out it didn’t matter either way.

Meeting Mr. Famous TV Personality made me thankful that I’ve always taken this course of action, because that was my first and only personal contact with him, and he came across as a bit of a dick. Sometimes I enjoy being a bit of a dick, but not as the starting point of a new relationship.

Point number four.

I started writing this post, went for dinner, and now I can’t remember the last point or story. Oh well. Maybe I’ll just add that one cool benefit of being a more famous juggler is that it makes you more appealing to the members of the opposite sex, a fact that I have taken advantage of numerous times over the years.

In conclusion…

I don’t really have a conclusion. I don’t even have anything to say about the Top 40 Jugglers of the Year charts, because I don’t take them that seriously. I have fun running the polls and presenting the results, and that’s all. If someone else thinks they are important in any way, that’s up to them.